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Abstract

This dissertation investigates how industrial wineries make a contract with Chinese villages for land leases and labor employment, even as local government seeks to promote the wine industry as a way to expedite China’s agricultural industrialization and farmland consolidation. My research findings contribute to our understanding of the ways property is embedded in social relationship and expresses the norms and values of communities (Hann 2007). It also provides a critique of recent anthropological literature that portrays a Chinese society as an individualized and fragmented one, and that presumes Chinese villagers are static, passive, and individualistic with little grounding in community values (Anagnost 2004; Zhang and Ong 2008; Yan 2010). Chinese villagers, I argue, reacted to the introduction of industrial vineyards as experienced farmers, strategic negotiators, and sometimes devoted community members although within the limitations imposed by a changing market order. Upon the de-collectivization in the early 1980s, land use rights were distributed to villagers in an egalitarian manner under the Household Responsibility System leaving ultimate land ownership still in the hands of the village collective. Due to this unique institution of collective land ownership, wine companies had to negotiate with each village for the land lease, and they were also obliged to employ villagers as contract farmers so as to guarantee their economic subsistence. In this process, villagers have maintained an egalitarian principle as they autonomously decided matters of selecting contract farmers, arranging contract fields, and distributing rent revenue among villagers. Obviously, villagers are situated in a disadvantageous position under the contract with a wine company as the long-term land lease for more than twenty years deprives them of other economic opportunities in the region’s rapidly developing market. Nevertheless, villagers managed to negotiate with wine companies for favorable contract conditions and loosened labor control, and utilized vineyards as part of their economic strategies. The study is based on the long-term residential research in rural China engaging with daily farming practices of villagers, and investigating the relationship between winery managers and contract farmers. My research stretched over five years from a preliminary research in 2009 to two-year dissertation research in 2012-2014, which helped to grasp the changing attitudes of research subjects according to the region’s market environment. In fieldwork, I assisted farmers with diverse tasks of vine cultivation, socialized with villagers at a local restaurant, and interviewed them during house visits. I also interviewed wine experts such as local officials, vinologists, magazine editors, and wine dealers in order to understand the structural and technological issues in China’s wine industry. This case study of China’s industrial vineyards reveals that the neoliberal restructuring by agribusiness capital cannot be unilateral, but has been entangled with the pre-existing configurations of post-socialist institutions, and limited and challenged by communal responses from below (Nonini 2008; Pieke 2009). My ethnographic data demonstrate that the political legitimacy of collective land ownership was not maintained just by villagers’ nominal entitlement, but has long been reinforced by their autonomous practices of land distribution, auctions, and readjustments deeply based on an egalitarian principle of land use.

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